Saturday, February 27, 2010

How legitimate are targeted killings?

What is a legitimate killing? And what makes a killing illegitimate? On the face of it, these are not difficult questions to answer. Those who take an absolutist position on right to life would argue that any killing is illegitimate. On the other end of the absolutist spectrum are those who would insist that when the state kills, no matter what the reason, it is legitimate; when individuals kill, unless they do so in self-defence, it is illegitimate. Then there are those who would cite the law to justify certain killings — for instance, killing enemy soldiers on the battlefield; executing those found guilty of committing capital offences; and, killing criminals who resist arrest or attack the police — but insist that extrajudicial killings by the state or agencies of the state are illegitimate. Human rights activists would strangely argue that while it is legitimate for ‘armed opposition groups’ to resort to violence and even indulge in senseless killings, the state, as the protector of human life and liberty, does not have the right to kill.

Macabre and distasteful as it might be, the debate over what is and is not legitimate killing came up, although fleetingly, during a recent television discussion on Maoist violence. The human rights activists who were present in the studio were most emphatic in asserting that the state, in this case represented by security forces, has no right to kill even if those who are targeted are known to have indulged in killing innocent people and policemen or, unless put down, can be expected to shed human blood in the future. Of course, this is an absurd proposition. If it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the security of its citizens, then it is equally its responsibility to take any measure that it may deem fit to protect them from marauders.

The argument proffered by human rights activists is fallacious for a second reason. Implicit in what they say is the suggestion that men and women in uniform (whether of the police or the military) are fair targets for ‘armed opposition groups’ — or ‘gunmen’, as terrorists are referred to by politically correct sections of ‘civil society’ — since they represent the state and hence the ‘enemy’. As if that robs them of the right to life which, for everybody else, is considered inviolable. This is not only chillingly callous, but also downright sinister. Thankfully, in real life it doesn’t quite work that way.

The reason why I have raised this issue is not to discuss whether it is right or wrong to adopt tough measures against Maoists; that’s a settled point and little or no purpose is served by endlessly debating it. Maoists must be crushed with minimum, if at all any, collateral damage. But we need to look beyond what has come to be accepted as the normal, textbook response to terrorism, never mind the shade of terror, which could range from shimmering green to dazzling red. Must the state entirely depend on ‘massive deployment’ of security forces? Should action be always visible to the people? Or has the time come to consider the adoption of strategic responses, for instance targeted killings, which could be more effective and virtually rule out the possibility of collateral damage?

After all, if the top leaders of an insurgency, Islamist or Maoist, were to be neutralised through surgical strikes, there would be disarray and demoralisation in the ranks and the cadre, no matter how motivated, would feel deterred from persisting with the ‘cause’. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam did not become extinct because fighters were killed in scores if not hundreds. The LTTE became history only after its top leadership was annihilated. Till the moment the Sri Lankan Government released photographs of V Prabhakaran’s lifeless body, the Tigers fought back fiercely. Similarly, in Punjab the guns fell silent after the top leaders of the Khalistani insurgency were methodically neutralised. Perhaps far fewer lives would have been lost had this approach been adopted in the early days of separatist violence in Punjab — and in Jammu & Kashmir.

These thoughts come to mind while reading about the targeted killing of Hamas’s top military commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai on January 20 and subsequent investigations by the emirate’s police. The Government of Israel has refused to comment on what is widely perceived to have been a Mossad operation. No other organisation could have carried out such a daring and flawless execution, that too on hostile territory. If details pieced together from closed-circuit television camera footage collated from various spots and released by the authorities of Dubai are to be believed, a group of men and women travelled from foreign destinations on forged passports a day before Mabhouh arrived in the emirate. Apparently, he had come to Dubai to meet someone who had offered to sell arms to Hamas. It may have been a trap set up by his assassins who tracked their quarry to his hotel room and killed him before he could raise an alarm. Their mission accomplished, the assassins flew out of Dubai the same afternoon.

It could be argued that Mabhouh’s assassination will not lead to the collapse of Hamas or end its rule of terror in Gaza, just as ‘Operation Wrath of God’ and ‘Operation Spring of Youth’ did not result in the destruction of the PLO, although they did serve to revive and reinforce the fear of Gideon in rage. Mabhouh is not the first Hamas leader to be killed. Salah Shahade was assassinated in 2002; Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who would remorselessly direct suicide bombers to murder Israeli civilians, was killed in March 2004; within a month, Sheikh Yassin’s successor, Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi, was assassinated; and, in October that year, another senior Hamas leader, Adnan Al Ghoul, was put down. Hamas was no doubt shaken, but not necessarily deterred, or else there would have been no need for ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Although, the killing of Nizar Rayyan on January 1, 2009, during the Gaza raid did result in a hudna which is still holding.

Was Mabhouh despatched before he could acquire sufficient weapons for Hamas to break the truce and launch a fresh attack on Israel? Will his killing revive the fear of Gideon the righteous destroyer and reinforce the idea of Israel as a mighty warrior? Whatever the answer, the utility of targeted killing of terrorists — we need not go into the morality or legality of such counter-insurgency measures since terrorism is neither morally right nor a legal expression of dissent — is demonstrated by the fact that Israel has survived six decades of relentless and fierce hostility without ever feeling the need to capitulate before its enemies.

PS: Ever since Mabhouh’s assassination, there has been a phenomenal increase in the demand for custom-made T-shirts emblazoned with Mossad’s logo sold by an Israeli firm. Orders have been pouring in from countries across the world, including, hold your breath, India.

[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on February 28, 2010]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ekushe Dirgho Jibi Hok!

We should never ever forget 21 February 1952, the day history was made when cultural nationalism triumphed over Mohammed Ali Jinnah's bogus Islamic nationalism. On that day, Bangla emerged victorious in its battle against Urdu, drenched in the blood of young martyrs of Dhaka University.

On this glorious day, I greet Bangalis across the world and salute the martyrs of Ekushe February. Joy Bangla!

Bangla'r maati, Bangla'r jol...

O Amar Sonar Bangla...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Two eyes for an eye...

Exterminate Maobadi terror now!

This picture was taken at the Silda Eastern Frontier Rifles camp in West Midnapore district, West Bengal, after Monday's (February 15) raid by Maobadis, reportedly led by a woman Maobadi with the "eyes of a cobra". The Maobadi raid left 24 security personnel dead.

A marauding horde of Maobadis descended on Phulwaria Karasi village in Bihar’s Jamui district on Wednesday night and slaughtered 12 tribals. Reports say that the Maobadis have abducted several villagers. Their fate is not known.
On Monday, Maobadis killed 24 jawans of Eastern Frontier Rifles at Shilda in West Bengal's West Midnapore district. Many of them were charred alive. Crucial, actionable, real time intelligence input received by the West Bengal Police at least three hours before the attack was not passed on to the EFR camp.
The attack was led by a woman Maobadi, Jagari Baskey, who is said to have the “eyes of a cobra”. Maobadi leader Koteswara Rao, also known as ‘Kishenji’, who is in regular contact with mediapersons, issued a statement after the attack: “”We have attacked the camp and this is our answer to P Chidambaram’s Operation Green Hunt… unless the Centre stops this inhuman military operation we are going to answer this way only.”
Maobadis, coyly described as ‘Left-wing extremists’ by the Government of India but in reality thugs and criminals masquerading as champions of tribals whom they terrorise with guns, loot, rape and murder at will, now have a free run of at least 25 per cent of all districts in the country.
The worst affected States are Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar.
The much-touted and talked about Operation Green Hunt is yet to be launched. The Government’s hand, it would seem, is being held back by the Left-liberal intelligentsia which monopolises television studios and provides an ‘intellectual’ cover for Maobadi terrorism, romancing their criminal misdeeds and justifying murder in the name of Mao.
If the Union Government is hesitant to act against what the Prime Minister has repeatedly described as the “gravest internal security threat” which India faces, then State Governments, barring the Government of Chhattisgarh, have proved to be equally pusillanimous in their approach.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar refuses to crack down on Maobadis. Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren is equally reluctant. Neither of them attended a recent meeting in Kolkata chaired by Union Home Minister to review the Maobadi situation in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha and work on a blueprint or inter-State coordinated action against Red terror.
Soren has agreed to free wanted Maobadis from prison to secure the release of an abducted BDO. The Union Government has conveyed its approval! Strangely, a Cabinet Minister, Mamata Banerjee, claims that there are no Maobadis and hence there is no need for police action. The Trinamool Congress is long suspected of being backed by Maobadis in rural West Bengal. A Trinamool MP, Kabir Suman, who sits in the Lok Sabha and has sworn to uphold the Constitution of India, has recently released a music CD extolling a Maobadi, Chhatradhar Mahato, now in police custody.
Just how grim the situation is can be gauged from what Chidambaram said while presenting his Ministry’s report card for January 2010:
“The situation in the States affected by Left Wing Extremism continues to be a cause of grave concern. The number of deaths in 2009 amongst civilians (591), security forces (317) and militants (217) indicated a rising trend. The increase in the number of incidents and casualties is not surprising because, after a review of the policy, State Governments decided to deploy a larger number of security forces and engage the naxalites in the districts dominated by them with a view to re-establish the authority of the civilian government. I expect this trend to continue in 2010.”

[Data regarding Maobadi violence can be accessed here. Assessments of the threat posed by Maobadis in various States can be read here.]
The time to discuss and strategise the state’s response to Maobadi terror is long past. The Government cannot be seen to be abdicating its primary responsibility of protecting citizens from criminal excesses. It must act with the fully fury of the state, and act now.
. Maobadis are thugs and criminals who deserve to be hunted down.
. Maobadis are pursuing the path of armed insurrection to overthrow the state.
. Maobadis do not respect human rights yet their protectors in the Left-liberal intelligentsia wax eloquent on the need to protect the human rights of Maobadis!
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

The argument about fighting Maobadis with development is fallacious. Maobadis are the biggest impediment to development projects. They have been blowing up schools, hostels, health centres, roads and panchayat buildings, thus destroying crucial infrastructure for taking development to the rural hinterland inhabited by tribals. They are anti-development, yet claim they are fighting for tribal welfare! The photograph reproduced below is of a school building blown up by Maobadis in a remote area of Jharkhand -- it was the only school in the area.

[My comments on Barkha Dutt's NDTV programme Buck Stops Here on February 16 on intellectuals romanticising Maobadi violence can be watched here ]
[My comments on Vikram Chandra's NDTV programme, Big Fight, on February 20 can be watched here ]
[My comments on Barkha Dutt's NDTV programme We the People on February 21 on Maobadi violence can be watched here ]

The Left-liberal intelligentsia’s demand that Government should talk to the Maobadis is absurd. What will the Government negotiate? The takeover of the Indian state by Maobadis? To allow them full control over vast swaths of Indian territory?
The Government’s response must be harsh, relentless and unforgiving: Two eyes for an eye; a jaw for a tooth. Terror must be met with overwhelming force. Jolawallahs should be asked to go take a walk, or join Khobad Gandi in his prison cell.
Unless the Maobadi menace is put down mercilessly now, we will end up with a situation similar to the one that prevailed in Sri Lanka till the LTTE was exterminated. Surely we don’t need a civil war to establish the primacy of the Constitution of India, do we?
What do you think?

News Updates

Two get bail
Jamshedpur, Feb 20 (PTI) Two of the 14 people whose release was demanded by the CPI (Maoist) as a condition for the release of abducted BDO of Dalbhumgarh Prashant Layek were today granted bail by a court in Ghatsila here. Additional District Judge M M Singh granted bail to Jasmi Mardi and her father Bahadur Mardi after hearing the case, which was re-investigated recently following the directives from Home department of Jharkhand. Mardi's lawyer M Haque said the two were released on a bond of Rs 10,000 each and will be released from Ghatsila sub-divisional jail later in the day.
Referring to Mardi's case, Haque claimed they alongwith other accused were falsely implicated in the case by Jasmi's husband Ramrai Hembram, a police constable, following the murder of Hembram's brother Dukhia Hembram last year.
Layek, who was kidnapped by Maoists from his office in Dalbhumgarh on Saturday last, was released yesterday at Hadian village under Ghatsila sub-division.
Picture below shows the kidnapped BDO Prashant Lakak with a Maobadi at Ghatshila:

Rs 25 lakh demanded for safety of BSNL towers
Rourkela (Orissa), Feb 20 (PTI) In a letter, written by the Maoists, the rebels have threatened to blow up BSNL's mobile towers at Maoist affected Biramitrapur in Sundargarh district, if the authorities did not pay Rs 25 lakh. B K Jog, general manager, BSNL Rourkela, today said an open envelop containing the letter was found from the commercial section of the office.
The letter written in Oriya with red ink was not addressed to any officer of the department. After receiving the letter, the GM said he has requested the superintendent of police to investigate. The police said an investigation has been ordered to verify the authenticity of the letter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Islamic human bombs

This is the photograph of a Taliban commander Abdullah alias Abu Waqas, who was presented before the media in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday, February 17, 2010. According to the police, Abdullah was involved in recruiting female suicide bombers and training them.

Islam, many clerics have claimed, prohibits terrorism and definitely disallows the horrific practice of jihadis strapping themselves with explosives and pulling the trigger in a crowded place, killing themselves as well as innocent men, women and children.

But there are other clerics like the notorious Yusuf al-Qaradawi who proudly proclaim that while Christians, Jews and Hindus have nuclear bombs, Muslims have 'human bombs'.

(See my earlier blog on Islam's stockpile of human bombs.)

What is alarming is that jihadis are believed to be recruiting women who volunteer to become 'breast bombers' -- explosive planted in their breasts that do not show up in security scanners.

Recently, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl called Meena told the BBC her shocking story (Bombs and beatings: Life among the Taliban) of how her own family tried to turn her into a human bomb.

Truth is often horrifyingly tragic, more so when it is the truth about Islamism and jihad.

On February 26, suicide-bombers struck guesthouses in Kabul popular with Indians on assignment to Afghanistan. Here's the AP report:

Suicide bombers strike in heart of Kabul; 16 dead
By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ (AP) – Feb 26, 2010
KABUL — Insurgents struck in the heart of the Afghan capital Friday with suicide attackers and a car bomb, targeting hotels used by foreigners and killing at least 16 people and wounding dozens, police said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai said were aimed at Indians working in Kabul.
The Taliban has long opposed India's involvement in the country and its ties to the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. oust the Taliban regime in 2001 and formed the backbone of Karzai's government.
Six Indians were killed in the attacks, a spokesman for the country's foreign ministry said, revising the number from the ministry's original estimate of up to nine Indians dead. An Italian diplomat and a French filmmaker were also among the dead. Three Afghan police were killed, and six more officers were among the 36 people wounded, Afghan government officials said.
The four-hour assault began about 6:30 a.m. with a car bombing that leveled a residential hotel used by Indian doctors. A series of explosions and gunbattles left blood and debris in the rain-slicked streets and underscored the militants' ability to strike in the heavily defended capital even as NATO marshals its forces against them in the volatile south.

And here's a report from The Daily Telegraph of London, in which jihadis reiterate their claim about a huge arsenal of 'human bombs':

Taliban 'ready to unleash 3,000 suicide bombers in Pakistan'
The Taliban has claimed it is ready to unleash 3,000 suicide bombers in Pakistan in protest at military operations and American drone attacks in its tribal areas.
Dean Nelson in New Delhi
The Daily Telegrapg 09 Mar 2010
In the last few weeks the Taliban's overall military commander for Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is Mullah Omar's deputy, was captured in a joint intelligence raid in Karachi by Pakistani and American agents.
Several members of the 'Quetta Shura', the movement's ruling council were later captured in the city, while the group's Pakistani leader Hakimullah Mehsud was believed to have been killed in a missile strike by an unmanned Predator drone. Earlier this week, Mullah Omar's son-in-law, a former minister in the last Taliban government was also arrested.
The threat was issued after one of its leaders claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb which killed 13 people outside an interrogation centre in Lahore where militant suspects are questioned.
Eight officials from the Federal Investigation Agency were those killed when the bomber detonated a Toyota Carolla packed with 1300 pounds of explosives between the office and a local religious school.
It was the third time the centre had been targeted and marked a return to its suicide bombing campaign after a number of serious setbacks for the Taliban leadership.
The bombing in Lahore served notice that the movement retains the ability to strike throughout Pakistan, while Azam Tariq, a spokesman for the Taliban, served notice that it had the capacity to intensify its campaign.
"We have around 3,000 more suicide bombers. We'll target all government places, buildings and offices," he said in a call to a news agency.
More than 3,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan last year as suicide bombers and 'fedayeen' commandos struck in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar. The figure marked a 48 per cent increase on 2008, reflecting a furious Taliban reaction to Pakistan Army operations against Taliban militants in South Waziristan and Bajaur Agencies.
Analysts believe the success of the army offensive in South Waziristan and their recent successes in arresting senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders has damaged the militants' ability to strike as regularly as they did last year.

I came across an interesting news story on Thursday (February 18) which I am posting below:

Wife of UK airliner bomb plotter gives testimony

LONDON (AP) -- The wife of a man convicted of plotting to bomb trans-Atlantic flights has testified in a British court that she was horrified to learn of his plans – but insisted she had no advance knowledge.
Cossor Ali told a London trial she was disgusted to be later shown a suicide video he had recorded in preparation for the attacks. The 28-year-old Ali is accused of failing to disclose information about her husband's terrorism plans, an offense which carries a punishment of up to five years in jail.
Abdulla Ahmed Ali – the plot's ringleader – was previously convicted and jailed for a minimum of 40 years, one of the longest sentences ever handed out by a UK court. He hoped to down at least seven passenger jets, and kill thousands, using liquid explosives. His wife denies withholding information.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tiger’s roar turns into a whimper

Friday has come and gone. Shahrukh Khan’s film, My Name is Khan, has been released in theatres across the country and around the world. The Shiv Sena’s protest against the movie has fallen flat. Television channels that went to town over the Shahrukh Khan-Shiv Sena spat are gleefully toting up ratings. Expectedly, the film has received rave reviews. Both Shahrukh Khan and Karan Johar are celebrating their latest success. The tamasha, thankfully, is over and we can get back to less exciting issues like food prices, Maobadi excesses, taxpayer-funded assistance for Islamic terrorists, and the Prime Minister’s renewed grovelling before a smugly arrogant, terror-sponsoring Pakistan at America’s instruction.

It would, however, be instructive to revisit the Mumbai stand-off that turned into a damp squib. Shahrukh Khan (and consequently My Name is Khan) managed to earn the Shiv Sena’s ire by describing Pakistan as a “great neighbour”. The comment was made in the context of IPL franchises not picking up Pakistani cricketers and the subsequent media-generated ‘outrage’ over what was described as a “deliberate snub” which some said was at the Government’s behest, a charge that has since been stoutly denied by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and lesser worthies of the UPA 2.0 regime. It was frightfully stupid of the Shiv Sena to seize upon Shahrukh Khan’s stray comment, possibly made keeping in mind audience and fans across the Radcliffe Line, and question his patriotism. There is no reason to disbelieve the actor (he describes himself as a “performing artiste”) when he says (as he did on Twitter): “Hate: Anyone or anything that threatens my country… I have never hurt anybody’s sentiments… religious, nationalist or personal wittingly. I am pro-relationship but not at the cost of my nation… Feel awful that Balasaheb and Uddhav have misconstrued my words...”.

Conspiracy theorists would say that Shahrukh Khan (or his publicists) sensed a great opportunity in the brouhaha that followed the IPL franchises ignoring Pakistani cricketers to trigger a controversy on the eve of the release of My Name is Khan. After all, a million dollars and more spent on publicising the film could not have fetched such frenzied and sustained media reportage for nearly a fortnight. They would also slyly point out that perhaps the actor’s run-in with American immigration officials (who are known to be intellectually challenged) on account of the ‘Khan’ part of his name, which resulted in his being detained for two hours at Newark Airport and massive (media-instigated) outpouring of rage in India, may not have been entirely coincidental.

After all, Shahrukh Khan did try to kick-up a similar controversy by claiming security staff at Heathrow Airport asked him to sign prints of his full body scan showing his (what are coyly referred to as) ‘private organs’. Apparently, he was happy to ‘autograph’ the prints. British immigration officials, sharper than their friends across the Atlantic, however, were not too happy about the colourful story finding its way into media reports, and issued a formal statement denying that he had been body-scanned and pointing out that such scanners do not come attached with printers, nor can these images be printed on paper. In brief: It was a cock-and-bull story. But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of his fans, some of whom are believed to have paid as much as a thousand euros to attend the first day, first show of My Name is Khan in European theatres.

Shahrukh Khan (I must, alas, use the actor’s full name since I am neither his fan and have in fact not seen any of his films, nor can I claim, unlike many of my colleagues, to know him socially), of course, describes these conspiracy theorists as “sickos” and wants them to “shut up”. Some would say this does not suggest that he is as tolerant about others as he expects them to be about him. But there really is no percentage in getting involved in a protracted debate on the actor (whose first interview to a mainstream newspaper appeared in The Pioneer at my suggestion some 18 years ago if I am not mistaken; the then editor, now a leading member of the Left-liberal intelligentsia, had squawked: “Shahrukh who? That runt?”) or his latest film.

Nor shall any purpose be served in debating the media’s astounding role in converting the Shahrukh Khan-Shiv Sena spat into a morality play in which the good, the liberal and the tolerant were called upon to take a stand against the bad, the illiberal and the intolerant and protect, of all things, “India’s integrity”. I am still struggling to figure out how a Bollywood film and the nation’s integrity are linked. The media-manufactured outrage, however, was sufficiently effective to make a young woman, allegedly educated enough to be employed as a content writer, pathetically tweet (to @iamsrk) on Thursday night, “Dear Shahrukh I am always being there for you, no need for you being sad. It is kismat! :).” On @iamsrk’s timeline there’s a corresponding tweet which says, “Yipeee!” Presumably such exchanges bear evidence to the correctness of media going berserk over what finally turned out to be a non-event. News judgement couldn’t have been more appropriate in the times we live in.

Yet, the hullabaloo has proved to be useful insofar as it has demonstrated beyond doubt that the Shiv Sena is now a pale shadow of its past, drained of energy and stripped of its legendary clout to shut down Mumbai in less than an hour’s notice. Worse, the Marathi manoos, for whose rights the Shiv Sena claims to be fighting for, is no longer willing to take to the streets at the drop of a hat: The Pramukh’s wish is no longer considered a command, nor is Matoshree any more seen as the centre of real power in Mumbai. Young Indians, increasingly mobile and constantly looking for fresh opportunities in new places, are loath to subscribe to the Shiv Sena’s narrow parochialism, which does not necessarily mean they subscribe to the bogus liberalism propagated by our media either. Successive electoral reverses and desertion from its ranks have only served to defang the ageing ‘tiger’: Many of Balasaheb Thackeray’s storm-troopers are now beneficiaries of Congress largesse.

There’s a message for the BJP in Friday’s abject defeat, if not humiliation, of the Shiv Sena: The party’s oldest ally is now a liability. Politics is largely about popular perceptions, and the most popular perception of the moment is that the Shiv Sena story is over, it’s a relic of the past which has no place in India of the future. The nation, as the RSS has emphasised while berating the Shiv Sena for its hoodlum politics, takes precedence over obscene parochialism. A separation can no longer be put off indefinitely; the BJP must exercise its choice or risk getting tarred by the same brush. This is not about standing by Shahrukh Khan, but upholding the principles of enlightened Hindutva.

[This appeared as my weekly column 'Coffee Break' in The Pioneer on 14/02/10.]

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Islam's stockpile of human bombs

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had promised his people and the Muslim ummah the ‘Islamic Bomb’. He didn’t live to see his promise fulfilled by a thieving AQ Khan. But given the reality of mutually assured destruction just in case someone is tempted to push the button, Pakistan has to perforce keep the ‘Islamic Bomb’ in safe custody, a useless totem of power. But there’s a far more easily accessible variant of the ‘Islamic Bomb’ which is used with sickening regularity by those who are thrilled at the sight of human gore and flesh, preferably that of women and children. It is called the ‘Human Bomb’.

Before Islamist suicide-bombers became dime-a-dozen, theorists would agonise over what made a man or a woman voluntarily pull the trigger of an explosives laden belt or jacket, thus blowing himself or herself up along with unsuspecting victims, for instance children in a school bus in Israel. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had perfected the art of using the ‘human bomb’, despatching young men and women to commit dark deeds of mass murder or targeted killings, as in the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. But the LTTE’s suicide-bombers were driven by ideology, no matter how twisted and perverse it may have been. The cadre followed the leader’s command, or were executed for defiance.

It could be argued that the Islamist ‘human bomb’ is equally driven by ideology — the ideology of hate which fuels jihad in our times. But that would be a simplistic explanation. Perhaps a more abiding reason could be found in the faith they seek to espouse through their ghastly expression of fealty to Islam. The Quran variously praises the “man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah...”, men who “fight in His cause, and slay and are slain…”; it promises rewards for the martyr, “be he slain or be he victorious”. The Hadith (Bukhari) extols the virtues of the ‘martyr’: “I would love to be martyred in Al1ah’s cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.” That and the promised pleasures of zannat with doe-eyed virgins.

The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, a kindly man of wisdom with whom I had several enlightening conversations during my stay in Egypt, would often point out the fallacy of quoting scripture to justify terror, especially suicide-bombing. “Those were different times, we live in a different world. We must understand the text in its context.” Grand Sheikh Tantawy, despite heading Sunni Islam’s most famous theological centre and the world’s oldest surviving centre of learning, had nothing but contempt for those who sought martyrdom through terror. While preachers of hate like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who runs the most popular portal on Islam, have glorified suicide-bombers and exhorted followers to tread the path of violence as it leads directly to heaven, Grand Sheikh Tantawy has unhesitatingly described them as “enemies of Islam”.

Much as we would like the voice of Grand Sheikh Tantawy to drown the murderous discourse of lesser imams and self-appointed standard-bearers of Islam, unfortunately he and his tribe are in an awful minority. What prevails over the faithful who are easily persuaded by chapter and verse is the constant chant of the virtues of ‘martyrdom’, of becoming a shahid for the cause of faith: They are brainwashed into believing that the road to heaven is made shorter for those who “slay and are slain”, who are “martyred in Allah's cause”. Many of the suicide-bombers are illiterate or semi-literate, but there are also those who have not allowed their education to come in the way of their belief. Mohammed Atta, who flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center, was not educated in a madarsa, nor did Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian ‘underpants bomber’ who almost brought down a trans-Atlantic flight last Christmas, suffer denial and deprivation.

Yet, there is no single pattern or explanation to what drives men and women into committing a horrific act of self-destruction aimed at killing innocent people. Reem Riyashi, a 22-year-old mother of two toddlers, blew herself up at a check-post on Israel’s border with Gaza in January, 2004. It was publicised by Hamas as the ultimate expression of loyalty to Islam and sacrifice for the ummah. In a video tape recorded hours before she became a ‘martyr’ and which was shown on a television channel controlled by Hamas, she was heard saying, “I have always wished to knock at the door of heaven carrying skulls belonging to the sons of Zion.” Later it transpired Reem Riyashi’s husband had discovered that she was having an affair with a senior Hamas office-bearer. The hapless woman was given the choice of death due to infidelity at the hands of her enraged husband or death as a ‘martyr’ by becoming a suicide-bomber. She believed the latter would fetch her redemption in the eyes of god, her family and society; her children would respect her.

How, then, would we explain why an Iraqi mother strapped her unsuspecting little child with remote-controlled explosives and blew her up as she raced to collect chocolates from an American soldier who would visit the neighbourhood every day to play with the children? Or the sheer cruelty of a Taliban commander who trains young boys and girls to become suicide-bombers? The BBC recently ran the story of a 13-year-old girl who escaped from home, terrorised by the prospect of being turned into a ‘human bomb’. She told the BBC how her brother, who is a Taliban commander, trains ‘human bombs’, among them his own sisters. Nor is it easy to explain why Humam Khalid Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, an educated Jordanian who is believed to have been on the CIA’s payroll and was given the task of tracking Ayman al-Zawahiri, apart from being trusted by the Jordanian authorities, blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan, killing seven CIA agents. His family had no clue about what he was planning to do; they thought he had gone abroad to study medicine.

Explanations are not easy to find for a phenomenon that defies logic. We are now told that MI5 has come across evidence to believe Muslim doctors who trained in British hospitals have returned home and joined jihadi ranks with the task of preparing ‘bosom bombers’ — women who volunteer to have explosives implanted in their breasts that cannot be detected by scanners and X-ray machines at airports. Technology and theory spun around a terrorist’s psychoprofile — there cannot be a psychoprofile to profile all terrorists — can help us only up to a point. Beyond that, it’s a grey area, a no-man’s land where logic is replaced by the illogical urge to die and destroy.

-- Kanchan Gupta.

[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on 07/02/10. (C) CMYK Printech Ltd.]